In Everglades National Park, parts of the river of grass are collapsing – literally. A lot of the problems have to do with massive efforts to drain and replumb Florida’s most important water resource, an ecosystem unlike any other on Earth.
Welcome to the first episode of DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, about the massive plan to save the Everglades. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.
Listen by clicking on the player above or read the transcript below.
AMY GREEN: Just off the main road through the sawgrass prairie of Everglades National Park …
AMY GREEN: “I’m stepping very carefully because I do not want to fall in the water.”
AMY GREEN: … the river of grass is collapsing. Literally.
AMY GREEN: “The water feels great. It’s so cool and refreshing.”
AMY GREEN: “OK, I just fell in almost to my waist, but I’m back now.
“What did I just fall into exactly?”
TIFFANY TROXLER: “That is some of the peat, and the limestone is about, I don’t know, five feet below us right now. So I don’t think you fell all the way to the limestone. But yes, you fell through a hole, a common occurrence in Everglades field research. So you’re indoctrinated. You’ve become a field researcher. Bravo.”
AMY GREEN: Tiffany Troxler is the science director at the Sea Level Solutions Center in the Institute of Environment at Florida International University. She and I are stepping precariously across a series of wooden and aluminum boards forming a narrow bridge across a 10 foot-by-10-foot hole of water, basically, that has opened up here in the sawgrass.
TIFFANY TROXLER: “The collapse here is, it’s patchy. You get some larger ponds, but you see a number of sawgrass pedestals that remain.”
AMY GREEN: Troxler kneels, reaches into the water and retrieves a fistful of the soil at the bottom, peat.
TIFFANY TROXLER: “You can feel it’s spongy, and it holds a lot of water. So if you squeeze it, you can compress it down to something much smaller in size.”
AMY GREEN: The peat is dense and richly black, made of decomposed plant remains that have piled up layer upon layer over centuries.
AMY GREEN: “Is this kind of like looking at an Everglades time capsule?”
TIFFANY TROXLER: “That’s a great way to think about it. Absolutely. This stuff takes a very long time to accumulate.”
AMY GREEN: “Like how many years?”
TIFFANY TROXLER: “Thousands of years to accumulate.”
TIFFANY TROXLER: “Peat is essentially the foundation that all of or much of the wetland area that you see in the Everglades is supported by.
“The elevation of the peat also controls the type of habitats that you see in the Everglades. If it’s a little bit higher you get tree islands. If it’s a little bit lower you can get sawgrass marshes.
“Very small changes in the elevation of the peat control the distribution of the habitats, and the distribution of the habitats is what supports the extraordinary wildlife that people from all over the world come to see.”
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